The internal walls of Etruscan tombs such as those at Cerveteri and Tarquinii still contain the remains of magnificent murals which give us a considerable insight into the Etruscan way of life. A commonly recurring theme is the banquet, which in the case of the Necropolis paintings, carried a double meaning. For the banquet was also an intrinsic part of the religious ceremony at funerals. After all the formal funeral ceremonies were complete, the relatives of the deceased were treated to a sumptuous banquet, at which the spirit of the departed was believed to attend.
In Etruscan daily life, the banquet was very much a status symbol, indicating to all and sundry that the hosts had "arrived" in the estimation of the Etruscan social elite. Certainly in the heyday of the Etruscan league, around the seventh century BCE a wide reaching trading network (the first EEC) had been well established with far flung parts of Europe. Etruscan bronzes have been found as far afield as Hassle in Sweden. Ships loaded with amphorae and the bounties of Etruscan mining and agriculture were traded throughout the Mediterranean and possibly into the Atlantic Ocean as far as Madeira. As a result of all this, life for the rich Etruscans was extremely pleasant.
Lavish receptions were laid on, in which the guests; men and women of high social standing, reclined on couches waited on by numerous servants, and were entertained by musicians and dancers swaying to the hypnotic but strident rhythms of music played by Etruscan virtuosos.
The tables were covered with elaborately embroidered table cloths, on to which the various dinner courses were arranged. The dishes included generous selections of fish such as Tuna, and meats such as hare, deer and birds (Wild boar was a particular favourite). Grapes were originally native to the Arabian peninsula, but widely grown by the beginning of the first millennium BCE. The Etruscans probably introduced grapes and wine to Italy around the 9th Century BCE.
What we know of Etruscan music comes to us from the impressions and feelings gained from the many tomb illustrations, or from the mysterious inscriptions on sarcophagus lids. We base our scant knowledge of Etruscan music from the few testimonies which survive from ancient sources, and as far as written score is concerned, there are no examples. Only with the Pythagorean system of the Ancient Greeks can we talk with some certainty of true musical scores, in some cases carved on grave steles, which represent the various Ancient Greek musical traditions. Modern interpretation of such notation is very theoretical and the true values of the musical notes can only be estimated.
Most writers believe, based on the absence of musical manuscripts, that the Etruscans seem to have more of an oral rather than a written musical tradition. On the other hand there is nothing more than circumstancial evidence to suggest otherwise.
The Liber Lintaeus of Zagreb, believed by some to be part of one the Etruscan sacred books, appears to contain certain repetitive rhythmic phrases, which would indicate congregational involvement in the litturgies. Certain tablets found in Etruscan tombs also show rhythmic patterns, indicative of poetry or verse. Those sources together with tomb illustrations showing numbers of musicians playing together, and accounts by Livy of Etruscan theatre tend to lend credence to the viewpoint that such elaborately planned events may have had rehearsals possibly utilising written scores.
The important role of music in all significant aspects of life: banquets, religious celebrations, funeral rites; and its asscoiation magical and spiritual aspects tend to add weight to this argument.
Music accompanied both work and leisure activities. Solemn ceremonial events such as the games of the annual Fanum Voltumnae were accompanied by professional Musicians and dancers as attested by Titus Livius. It featured during sporting competitions, and military drills, during hunting and funeral activities, as well as providing background ambience during the banquets that went on within the walls of the sumptuous palaces of the aristocracy. But this music was played not only during the meal itself (SYNDEIPNON), but also while the food was being prepared and of course during the long convivial drinking sessions spent after meals (the origin of the term SYMPOSIUM).
During the funeral ceremony, the sweet inviting sound of the Auleta (flute) and lyre, would lighten the atmosphere of the banquet, persuading participants to dance. We know little of the original Etruscan names of the musical instruments and therefore use the Latin or Greek names instead. We can classify them in their various groupings:
Percussive instruments such as Bells, Campanella (Tintinnabulum) and castanets (crotalus) are found, such instruments easily carried by young dancers.
From Pliny the Elder's description of the tomb of Lars Porsenna, we can draw some interesting conclusions. As with many other objects with Apotropaic function, bells were mounted on the tomb with the objective of producing sounds when they were moved by the wind, thus repelling evil presences.
Lyres, usually with seven strings (Heptacord).
Kithara or Barbitones.
Lyres can be divided into two types: Those where the sound box was made of the shell of a turtle (lyra and barbitos) and those made of wood (kithara and phorminx). In Ancient Greek times, the Lyrae and Barbitos were used by amateur musicians, the kithara and phorminx by professionals.
According to Greek mythology, the invention of the lyre is attributed to Hermes. When Hermes was one day old, he climbed out of his cradle and found the shell of a turtle. He stretched the pelt of a cow around it, fixed the two horns through the leg holes of the turle and tied strings across it.
One day, when Hermes stole some sheep from Apollo, the latter was soothed by the sound of the instrument. Hermes escaped punishment and the instrument gained its divine status.
The Tuba was a straight trumpet made out of copper or iron. It was a long tube with a length of about 120-140 centimeters finishing in a bell shape. In its usual form (from later Roman models) it came in 3 parts with a mouthpiece. The origin is Etruscan and has many similarities with the Greek Salpinx. The difference between these two is that the end of the tube of the salpinx had the form of a tulip. They were both used in the army and during games. The objective was to sound as loud as possible. The sound of it according to Ennius invoked fear and panic in the minds of enemies: "at tuba terribili sonitu taratamtara dixit". As in later Roman times, the tuba was used at sacrifices, triumphal processions and funerals. However its main purpose was to give signals for tactical movements during battle.
The Lituus - The term Lituus has two meanings: A crooked staff, usually held by powerful individuals in the religious and political arena, and often used to trace signs in the sky or on the ground for ritual division purposes"; but it was also an L-shaped wind instrument. The instrument was usually made of bronze and could be up to 160 cm long.
The Cornu (from the Latin "horn"), was a coiled brass instrument, often of huge diameter (in Pompeii an example was found with a diameter of 150 cm). It was probably coiled so that it could be worn across the shoulders (Its possible origins was for the hunt, but in later years it became an instrument of ceremony). Its longer length gave it more musical versatility than the tuba
The Tibia: a type of flute. According to Livius, the Tibia was played by Etruscan musicians during the Ludi Scenici, organised during the fourth century BCE to counter the great plague of Rome.
The Aulos or double flute, which could almost be called the Etruscan national instrument had two divergent flute-pieces attached to a double mouthpiece, often fixed to the lips of the player by means of a Capistrum, or a strap around the head. The virtuosity of Etruscan flautists was almost legendary among the Greeks and Romans. Timaeus, writing in the fourth century BCE, gives us an account of how the Etruscans made practical use of the entrancing and melodious graces of the Etruscan flute to lure wild boars out of the wilds only to be caught by waiting huntsmen.
Examples of Etruscan performers can be seen vividly portrayed on the walls of the Tomb of the Triclinium in Tarquinia.
While the Musicians work their musical magic, The dancers, depicted in an Idyllic landscape move with subtle expressive movements, wearing diaphanous veils or colourful cloaks (Tebenna) often knotted on their shoulder, or folded in the hands, similar to modern day dancers from Ionian Greece.
Music often accompanied the rhythmical movements of dancers, whose dance was not just for entertainment, but in some cases was linked to various rituals including funeral celebrations.
Music was also used in the Etruscan performing arts. As well as mime, the Etruscans gave theatrical performances with the various dramatis personae represented by masked histrioni, or theatrical performers. From the 4th Century BCE, there was considerable influence by Greek theatre.
In the 7th century BCE, Etruscan clothing was very similar to that of the Greek archaic period. The men in the archaic age wore a kind of robe, which was knotted at the front. In later times this gave way to the "tunica" which was worn over the head, usually with a colourful cape slung over the shoulders. This cape, usually wide and heavily embroidered, became the national costume of Etruria - the "tebenna", later to become the Roman toga.
Women wore a long tunic down to the feet, usually of light pleated material and was typically decorated on the edges. Over this was worn a heavier colorful mantle.
The most common types of footwear were high sandals, ankle boots and one characteristic type of shoe, with upward curving toes, possibly of Greek or Oriental origin.
The most common head wear was a woolen hat, but these came in many different forms such as caps, conical type hats, pointed hoods and wide brimmed hats, such as are still worn to this day by Tuscan farmers. Often the hat identified the person that wore them with a particular social class. From the end of the 5th century BCE, it became more common not to wear a hat. Also from the 5th century BCE men, who previously wore a beard, began to shave and to wear short hats.
The regalia of later Roman times, such as the purple robes worn by the emperors, were of Etruscan origin, as were a number of symbols often ascribed to Rome such as the Lictor and Fasces.
Women wore a great variety of hairstyles including long, shoulder length, knotted or interlaced behind the shoulders, in later times, the hair was worn shorter, and was knotted at the crown of the head or collected in gauze mantles or caps.
The magnificent robes of the patrician women were finished off with exquisite jewellery including ear-rings, necklaces, bracelets and fibulae. In its time, Etruscan Jewellery was unsurpassed by any other in Europe.
The bronzes of Etruria were equally celebrated throughout Europe, North Africa and the middle East.
The Aristocracy or dominant class in the Etruscan cities originated in the remote past and was composed of rich families of local and overseas origin. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (Lucius was probably a corruption of the Etruscan title "Lucumo"), was the first Etruscan king of Rome. It was probably his limited chances of political advancement in Tarquinii which prompted him to found a city among the sheep herders who lived around the Palatine hill, later to become the Romans.
The Etruscan aristocracy held the keys to power in the Etruscan cities, and was largely made up of rich families of noble descent together with rich merchants and land owners with aspirations to enter the elite social order.
From the tomb inscriptions, we can read the names of some of these families, such as the Apatrui,and Spitu from Tarquinii; and the Acvilna and Hathli families from Vulci for example.
Each of the cities in the Etruscan league of twelve, together with the Po Valley cities to the North of Italy were independent states. It may have been the fact that the ruling classes in each city were unwilling to join forces with other city states, that ultimately left the Etruscans vulnerable to attack from the Celts, and later the Romans, leading to the downfall of the civilisation.
Etruscan city planning was on a rigid planning system as determined by the disciplina etrusca. Houses were laid out in streets with sewage lines located under the roads. Early Rome as founded by the Etruscans was laid out in a similar fashion. Following the invasion of Rome by the Celts during the days of the Early republic, the local population begrudgingly rebuilt the city, but the final result was a more hap-hazard street pattern with housing built above sewer lines in many cases, resulting in disease epidemics.
While the Romans are admired for their magnificent aquaducts, the Etruscans reticulated water by means of underground water pipes and pressure boxes- a technology which was not passed on to the Romans. A form of underfloor heating was used, which continued on with the Romans in later years.
The pillars used by the Etruscans to support Temples and other public works complied with defined ratios, and computer models show that in terms of Engineering, they were an improvement on the Greek Corinthian, Doric and Ionian orders.
Arches, unknown in Classical Greece, were originally used in Mesopotamia, and were introduced to Italy by the Etruscans. They were used to good effect by the Romans in later years.
The residences of the Etruscan ruling classes were typically characterised by a wide central courtyard entered from an "Atrium Tuscanicum" as the Romans called it. The word Atrium itself comes from the Etruscan word for entrance or harbour, as in the Etruscan port of Atrii which gave its name to the Adriatic sea.. Several other rooms led off from this central courtyard. The Etruscan villa was the precursor to the later Roman Villa.
The buildings were single storey and were built with blocks of stone as a foundation. The walls were constructed with frames of wood and clay plastering.
The typical shape of the roof was eaved, but terraced roofs were also built. The exterior and interior walls of the houses were frescoed with geometric patterns or with moulded terracotta. Painted scenes adorned the interiors. As in Roman times, it was common to have painted pictures in frame like sections giving an overall effect of pictures hanging on a wall.